A recent acquisition to mark the end of this year’s Matariki celebrations

A recent acquisition to mark the end of this year’s Matariki celebrations

Matariki Ahunga Nui – Matariki is a provider of abundant resources”

This recent acquisition (purchased June 2013) is a tukutuku tūrapa, or panel named ‘Matariki’. It was woven to acknowledge the Maori New Year by master weaver Sonia Snowden (Ngāti Wai, Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Whātua, Ngā Puhi). It is made of kiekie, pīngao , woven in a lattice form on to a frame made from wood half rounds and kākaho. Then it is finally framed with painted black wood, so it may be hung on a wall.

Snowden 1
ME024103; ‘Matariki’ tukutuku panel; Sonia Snowden, 2011; Made from Kiekie, wood, Kākaho, Pīngao. Purchased 2013.
Snowden 2

Sonia Snowden is a highly accomplished senior weaver, respected within the ranks of equally accomplished senior weavers in Aotearoa; and is widely admired for her fine weaving, especially her whāriki (woven floor mats), kākahu (cloaks), kete whaikairo (finely patterned kits), and tukutuku (lattice woven panels). In 2000, Te Papa Tongarewa acquired this hieke or raincape, made from neinei leaves and with jute kaupapa (the woven main body of the cloak). The hieke is named “Nei ahau, nei ahau” (meaning ‘I am here, I am here’; as well as a clever play on the word nei nei). Sonia has also been a teacher of younger weavers and a long-time participant in Te Roopu Raranga Whatu o Aotearoa (the New Zealand National Māori Weavers’ Collective).

Tukutuku, sometimes known as arapaki or tuitui, is a customary weaving art form. It is lattice work wall panels patterned with dyed and undyed strips of harakeke and kiekie leaf and yellow pingao. These decorative panels are found in ancestral houses, typically positioned along the walls between the poupou and epa carvings. Tukutuku is usually undertaken by women and they are the female complement to the pou whakairo (carving for ancestral houses is restricted to males only). Tukutuku is one of the integral ornamental and narrative components of an ancestral house, symbolically iterating stories of a tribe through pictographic representations.


Interior of Kikopiri meeting house in the Horowhenua. Rowe, R K, fl 1962:Negatives of Wellington, Otaki, Wanganui and other districts. Ref: 1/1-003755-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22676098

Te Papa has collected tukutuku panels in the past, including this piece from Ngāti Whātua, purchased from the Orakei Marae Arts and Crafts Centre in 1978. Possibly most significant are the tukutuku panels which decorate the interior of the grand house Te Hau ki Tūranga.  (If you wish to see these, you can visit Te Hau ki Tūranga on Level Four in the Mana Whenua Gallery.)

In 1936, as part of a refurbishment project of Te Hau ki Tūranga, Sir Apirana Ngata supervised the commission of forty eight tukutuku panels from a weaving group of women that hailed mostly from Otaki, for the Dominion Museum (Te Papa’s predecessor). [For an account of this, read Deidre Brown 1999, pages 248-49].


Maori women from Otaki
Maori women from Otaki making tukutuku panels. Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002) Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: PAColl-5927-60. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22679853

But Sonia’s tūrapa is the most recent tukutuku collected since the 1978 acquisition of the Ngāti Whātua panel. Not only is it a lovely piece by a nationally recognised weaver which can show the continuity of the tukutuku technique and tradition, it is also a piece that can be used to tell the story of Matariki – the Māori New Year.

Sonia had this to say about her Matariki tukutuku:

“During the summer months weaving materials are prepared. Kiekie is gathered from the ngāhere, boiled and hung to dry white outside in the sunshine. Pīngao is collected, cleaned and also hung to dry a golden yellow. Upon Matariki’s arrival, the winter months have set in and weaving materials are dampened; pliable for weaving. Matariki is a time to celebrate, acknowledge Papatūānuku nurturing our weaving plants and to be mindful that these weaving resources need to be cared for so future generations can enjoy weaving too. “ Sonia Snowden, Personal Communication: 2013. ″

While still important to the decoration and visual language of wharenui, tukutuku – like many of the diverse art forms found within the ancestral houses – now also exists as a contemporary art form to be appreciated on its own. Weavers have experimented with a number of different materials and designs, and that exploration of design can be seen in this panel.

Image zoom for closer detail:
note the differing patterns, and the use of kiekie and the golden pīngao

The tūrapa has been made from customary materials such as pīngao and kiekie, with kākaho stalks and native timber slats for the base. The patterns employed in the panel are a mix of the customary and contemporary. In the lower part of the panel is the pattern purapurawhetu, a design which refers to the stars or star dust. In the upper part of the panel is a tukutuku design interpretation of the seven star cluster Matariki or Pleiades.

In Sonia’s Matariki tūrapa, the major star that represents Matariki the mother is distinguished with the use of the golden pīngao, while her daughters are rendered in the paler kiekie.

The acquisition of Sonia Snowden’s Matariki tukutuku is an important example of a weaving custom which continues to be dynamic and innovative. Tukutuku has customarily been a weaving practice associated with women (although men can weave tukutuku too), so the alignment between the female story of Matariki and her daughters, the Matariki meanings of Sonia’s tūrapa, and the tukutuku artform is particularly appropriate; all these elements make the panel even more compelling. I feel very lucky that we now have this panel in the museum for future generations to enjoy and admire the intricate art of tukutuku.


Tukutuku weavers at work, B.013046; Tukutuku weavers at work; circa 1930 – 1950; Maori; Raine, William Hall. In the collection of Te Papa.



References and for further reading:

  1. Barrow, T. (1976). A Guide to the Māori Meeting House: Te Hau ki Tūranga.Wellington: NationalMuseum.


  1. Brown, D. (1996). Te Hau ki Tūranga. Journal of the Polynesian Society, 105(1), 7-26. Retrieved from http://www.jps.auckland.ac.nz/document/Volume_105_1996/Volume_105,_No._1/Te_Hau_ki_Turanga,_by_Deidre_S._Brown,_p_7-26/p1


  1. Brown, D. (1999). The architecture of the school of Māori arts and crafts. Journal of the Polynesian Society,108(3), 248-249. Retrieved from http://www.jps.auckland.ac.nz/document/?wid=5049


  1. Paama-Pengelly, J. (2010). Māori art and design: Weaving, painting, carving and architecture. (1st ed., pp. 34-37). Auckland: New Holland Publishers(NZ) Ltd.


  1. Puketapu-Hetet, E. (1999). Māori weaving. (2nd ed., pp. 29-32). Auckland: Addison Wesley Longman New Zealand Ltd.


  1. Rangihiroa, T. (1921). Maori decorative art: No. 1, house-panels (arapaki, tuitui, or tukutuku). Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand 1868-196153, 452-470. doi: http://tinyurl.com/oenjs5n


  1. Snowden, Sonia. (personal communication, 27 May 2013)



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